ArtsCinema & TV

National Youth Film Awards 2021: 5 Short Films That Will Take You on a Roller-Coaster of Emotions

The National Youth Film Awards (NYFA) is back on a whole new level! COVID-19 has clearly overstayed its welcome (one that it never received), and we are now looking at a new world of normal ahead of us. What seemed so typical and simple just a year ago, has now become such a distant possibility.

That being said, every group, community and industry must be prepared for the evolving changes and adapt to them. One such group is the film industry or the artists’ community in Singapore. Unfortunately, our local artists don’t have the biggest platform in Singapore to showcase and nurture their talents, but that doesn’t mean that the dreams and aspirations of youths should go ignored.

Hence, NYFA has taken it upon themselves to provide this platform for these very youths, together with *SCAPE! NYFA 2021 is like nothing you’ve seen before. This year, we will see an NYFA Film Facilitation Programme come to life in the form of five films. This was conceptualised by Huang Junxiang, NYFA 2020’s Youth Inspiration Award winner. 

NYFA Conference
A conference with the mentees and mentors that could be there that night, along with producer Huang Junxiang and one of the hosts of the night, Lingual Tan

The mentorship journey followed five mentees who worked with seasoned filmmakers to produce a short genre film each. The five genres are action, horror, comedy, drama and animation. Each genre was mentored by internationally renowned filmmakers, who provided their guidance to their mentees, who they hope will become the future of filmmaking!

At a conference, the mentees shared that they were given complete freedom to decide what storyline they wanted to pursue and were given a budget to make their visions a reality.

So, here’s a little run-down on what these movies encapsulate and a little peek into the process behind the scenes!

NYFA 2021: Henchmen Visual 1
Henchmen: Very action-like, don’t you think?

The first film falls under the ‘Action’ category, called Henchmen – directed by Alistair Quak. His works have been featured at several prestigious festivals, including Cannes Film Festival and National Youth Film Festival. He was mentored by an award-winning producer of many projects, including our pride and glory, Crazy Rich Asians (2019), Mike Wiluan!

Think of a typical action movie; what would be the storyline? A hitman returns to take revenge on his former boss. This short film follows two henchmen who attempt to turn away from their inevitable fate as they wait to “protect” their boss from the oncoming hitman. The pinch of comedy in this action film makes the story all the more memorable and enjoyable. The use of Singlish by the main characters also somewhat makes it relatable. I had a good chuckle, or five, and just loved the end product.

NYFA 2021: Henchmen Visual 2
Henchmen: The two henchmen in question

Alistair has always loved action films and enjoyed being part of the process, especially after working with such a highly-esteemed mentor. He shared how action films do tend to require a higher budget, which means it’s also harder to break even or make profits, especially in Singapore, where local films do not typically do kindly at the box office. Such is the fate of action filmmakers in Singapore, and one that must change.

NYFA 2021: Strawberry Cheesecake Visual 1
Strawberry Cheesecake: An unsuspecting still which doesn’t even begin to tell you the horror that will unleash

Next is a film under the ‘Horror’ category, called Strawberry Cheesecake, made by Tan Siyou, a Singaporean filmmaker based in Los Angeles, and has worked on many projects. She is currently working on her first feature, AMOEBA, which has been awarded the Most Promising Project at the Southeast Asian Film Lab. She was mentored by a full-time filmmaker based in the UK and Malaysia, and a part-time horror-film-enthusiast – Amanda Nell Eu. She has received a Special Jury Mention in the International Short Film Festival Clermont Ferrand, among many other awards.

‘Strawberry Cheesecake’ is the story of three schoolgirls who are seen vaping on their school compound, only to be caught by their principal. Their revenge prank takes an ominous turn as shocking events unfold. The suspense just engulfs you the more you watch, and for the ten minutes, I was captivated. Also, don’t worry if you’re afraid of horror films! It isn’t scary, but it indeed does keep you on the edge of your seat.

NYFA 2021: Strawberry Cheesecake Visual 2
Strawberry Cheesecake: Doesn’t this teaser just give you the chills?

The hot word in this film was ‘monster’. This word partakes in the narrative and comes to weave a vital message that the world needs to hear. In a world where words can hurt and pierce, I genuinely appreciate Siyou taking this opportunity to share this message despite the dark genre. Siyou took this word and the ending and left it to the viewers’ interpretation. I felt the ending was a little difficult to understand, but I still think it was thought-provoking. 

Siyou shared that she’s actually terrified of horror films but wanted to try this out. With encouragement and “homework” from Amanda, who claims that horror is her first true love for cinema, Siyou found the strength to binge horror films during her hotel quarantine. She gained greater insight through this little activity.

NYFA 2021: Metadata Visual 1
Metadata is hilarious

The next film was a comedy, Metadata, directed by Grace Song, whose recent works under the Creatives Commissioning Creatives residency, ‘Bat Soup’ and ‘Dirty Laundry’, have garnered massive recognition. She was mentored by an independent filmmaker, sound technician and foley artist based in Bangkok, Sorayos Prapapan. He has directed many short films as well. 

The story follows Erin, a burnout editor who tries to find freedom from the chains that tie her down to her suffocating lifestyle and job. She escapes the clutches of her overbearing boss, an arthouse film director. I have to admit, this story wasn’t as comical as I had hoped, and the story doesn’t run as straightforwardly as I would like. The storyline is open to interpretation but requires a greater sense of perception to truly understand the film.

NYFA 2021: Metadata Visual 1
Metadata: A typical Monday afternoon for us all, no?

Grace shared how she wanted to make a film whereby the thought and story stick with you, and is up to your interpretation, which defines a film’s success. Sorayos Prapapan provided Grace with lots of support and guidance, and had nothing but praises for her skill and passion.

NYFA 2021: Bridget Visual 1
Bridget: A little glimpse!

The fourth film was a ‘Drama’ film, called Bridget. This film is directed by Li Kayue, who has been a consecutive winner of the Best Picture award at NYFA, for ‘Bangla’ (2018) and ‘Foul Ball’ (2019). He was mentored by a local film producer and screenwriter, and founder of a film company that focuses on developing and co-producing Independent Asian films, Protocol: Jeremy Chua.

In this film, we follow Isa, who is about to make his big debut for the same job that his parents have been ashamed of. He decided to open up about it with his family, and we see him emerge as a hero in his own way in 21st-century society. 

NYFA 2021: Bridget Visual 2
Bridget: It’s got the drama, the heart, the message, the talent. A complete package, indeed.

Another story with such a meaningful plot and message that needs to be put out there for our society to see. Every community in our world deserves respect, and most of all, acceptance. It doesn’t matter what you look like or what you want to do with your life, as long as on the inside you’re honest, respectful, and passionate. And it’s time for old-school and traditional people to understand this too. Huge kudos to Kayue for choosing to present the narrative of Isa, and that too, in such a moving and touching manner.

Kayue shared a lot about the struggles of keeping to a budget as a filmmaker. He named this to be the biggest challenge while working on this project. He also thanked his mentor for guiding him and showing him the ropes when he needed his support. 

NYFA 2021: Traffic Light Visual 1
Traffic Light: Do you see that traffic light?

The final film is an animation called Traffic Light, created by Ang Qing Sheng. He is an independent animation filmmaker who is also currently a lecturer in the Animation programme at LASELLE College of the Arts Singapore. He was mentored by LA-based Animation Director and Visual Effects Supervisor, Daniel Jeannette. He is experienced in Hollywood level visual effects and top-notch movie character animation as well.

This animated film might have been one of my favourites, as it showcases an authentic and humorous situation we often face as Singaporeans – behold, the “No one pressed the button!” scenario that makes our faces turn hot red with anger and groan in frustration. This film follows various personas from different walks of life, with different personalities and different reasons for being at the traffic light, all with a common goal of seeing the green man and crossing the road – from pets to school-going children, to working adults and our senior citizens. Who will they blame for this oh-so horrific crime

NYFA 2021: Traffic Light Visual 2
Traffic Light: Another uncannily similar scene. I got goosebumps

As you watch and pinpoint the character you feel the most drawn to, or you most relate to, you’re sucked into the narrative where you laugh at the uncanny similarity it holds to, you know, us. The different colours of Singapore society shine in their own way in this beautiful animation.

Qing Sheng noted how much work it was to have to animate everything like that. He relied on a lot of guidance and support from his mentor, Daniel. It was challenging, and especially working under a time crunch accompanied by deadlines, it must have been such a challenge, but they successfully overcame producing an animation masterpiece.

All five mentees did a terrific job with their projects, and I admire their desires to veil a message or a lesson in their works.

Mentees present at the conference heavily noted that keeping to a tight budget is one of the biggest, if not the biggest challenge in the local film industry. Some even got their friends to get on board with them. It was inspiring to hear them speak about their struggles after having watched their five wonderful films.

And now you can too. These short films will be made available for you to indulge in a new world, even if it is for 10 minutes at a time, on The Projector Plus, from now till 31 Dec 2021 for just $1, which will contribute to funding the next edition of shorts!

These films truly take you on a roller coaster of emotions, as they play with your heart and challenge your brain. You will become one with the main characters and be a part of their journey; feel what they feel, see what they see. Ups and downs are a part of every roller coaster in life, and these movies together make you revisit every one of these emotions – happiness, exhilaration, fear, devastation, pity, love. 

All of the mentees are working for the next chapter of their careers and have a lot coming up very soon. Stay tuned to their journeys, and support their growth as the voice of the next filmmaking generation of Singapore.

Be a part of someone’s journey – whether it’s that of the characters or these aspiring filmmakers; youths with flaming passion and big hopes and dreams.

Visuals courtesy of National Youth Film Awards.

Baani Kaur

Aspiring to achieve great heights like every human in the world, but till then, enjoy the most dramatic and sarcastic person you will ever read from.

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